A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
We knew what the first five years of Vulpes Libris had looked (and felt) like from this side of the operation, but when we were discussing how to celebrate our anniversary it occurred to us that it might be interesting to hear some of our regular readers’ and contributors’ memories. To that end we sent out a clutch of ‘I don’t suppose you would …?’ emails and today and Friday, we’re publishing the results.
Today, we’re joined by Kate Lace and Kirsty Doole:
I first came across Vulpes Libris quite early on in your history; you reviewed a book by a fellow Little Black Dress author, Philippa Ashley, and I was quite stunned. Not because I didn’t think her book was worthy of review – far from it – but, real reviewers don’t touch light romantic fiction, do they? That sort of book is written off as schlock and because fiction that doesn’t make your brain ache it can’t be worth even picking up, let alone actually reading (never mind that romantic fiction entertains millions of people who just want a bit of escapism from the hum-drum dreariness that their lives often are). But someone on the VL team thought differently and said so. So, out of curiosity more than anything, I began to drop in on the VL site. At the time I was chairman of the Romantic Novelists’ Association so I was fascinated to see if this review was a one off or if VL had reviewed ‘romance’ just to tick a box so their CV could boast they had… and then they’d go back to reviewing Proper Fiction, you know, the sort with no plot and long difficult words to prove how educated the author is.
But blow me – they (actually it was Moira) then reviewed one of mine. And she was nice about it. I mean, not a hint of being patronising. She started off by admitting that she thought she’d hate my book and was pleasantly surprised when she realised it was a half-decent read. And that’s when I knew this reviewing site was for real – it consisted of reviews for real readers who just read books; anything from light romance to classic (and not so classic) children’s books, non-fiction, literary fiction, crime, sci-fi… well, you get the picture. So the VL reviewers also read the lot, even stuff they weren’t sure they’d like but had a go at anyway. If it’s got a cover and words in between the VL crew will read it with an open mind and then let their followers know what they think with refreshing honesty.
So my impression in those first months of VL was incredibly favourable. Not just because you made nice comments about something I’d written (although it doesn’t half help) but I also found the astounding range of books that you reviewed deeply admirable. And that, unlike the arts pages in the weekend papers, this wasn’t mates reading other mates’ books and being duty bound to say flattering things – you were all so candid. You said if you didn’t think you’d like a book and were mistaken. Or vice versa. You also picked out the flaws, you told it as it was, warts and all. Currently, with the Amazon reviews debacle still raging, a lot of readers are asking just who they can trust for a truthful review – well, if they go to the VL site they need look no further! And it isn’t just the honesty that keeps me coming back – it’s the humour too. There is often a deep seam of wit in those reviews, and I do like stuff that makes me laugh. Wrap up a serious point with a joke and I am so much more likely to remember the salient fact, or the title, or author or whatever. Yup, the humour is very important.
Oh, and the cute pictures of the foxes.
Of course, by that I mean the furry sort as I don’t think there has even been a picture posted of any of the Book Foxes on the site. I was in utter ignorance of what a real live VL Fox looked like till I met Moira in the flesh at the RNA annual conference at the Newton Rigg Agricultural College in July 2009. I knew I was going to like her because her reviews had always made me hoot with laughter and I’d also dipped into her blog which, on a down day, could always guarantee to bring a little ray of sunshine if not a bloody great belly-laugh. And when I met her she really didn’t disappoint, mainly because, considering she is a relatively normal person who understands alternative therapies she took the bonkersness of the RNA en masse with barely a flinch. She also coped with us without the benefit of alcohol, which is even rarer; many of our guests need, at the very least, a quick stiffener before they face us, most seem to need the best part of half a bottle of wine. But they breed ’em tough in the Lake District and Moira stuck to orange juice and tea and delivered a droll, witty, thoughtful talk on Vulpes Libris as a reviewing site, about it’s versatility, about it’s fearlessness when it comes to popping a shot at the big boys like Amazon, about getting in-depth interviews with real-life celebs like Harry Enfield and Richard Armitage and about their reviewers’ sheer breadth of interests and backgrounds. And not only did I love her, everyone who attended her talk did too and instantly signed up to the VL blog and clamoured to get her to review their books.
And since then, not only has Moira returned to the RNA conference, Comrade Kirsty has also made an appearance – On Her Honeymoon! I think that surely means that the RNA and VL are bessie mates; and not just because VL is one of the very few blogs who review romantic fiction alongside every other type of book because they value all literature equally.
So it’s no wonder with people like Moira and Kirsty (and Anne and Leena and Sam and Michael and Jay and …) that you’re celebrating 5 glorious years. With all your admirable qualities (open minds, open hearts, fearlessness, tenacity, an occasional tendency towards the controversial but also fairness, honesty, humour …) you really ought to be still reviewing for the next generation of readers and the one after that.
Happy birthday VL. I am raising a glass – well, any excuse. Hic!
Kirsty Doole is a voracious reader and former blogger who works in academic publishing. She lives in Oxford with her husband, daughter, and two black cats, and has a fondness for lemon drizzle cake.
Sometime in late 2007 or early 2008 I discovered the book blogosphere. It started with Dovegrey Reader and spread outwards through blogrolls and links and somehow, via someone, I stumbled upon Vulpes Libris. I can’t recall the first post I read, or which Book Fox had written it, but I was immediately drawn to the “group blog” concept and the potential to cover much more ground with several different voices. VL quickly became a staple of my RSS reader.
In the years since I have befriended several of the Book Foxes, and happily I can report that they are a thoroughly nice bunch. I had a blog of my own for a few years, though it has since gone off to rest in the great server in the sky, and I think we probably first conversed via comments sections before moving on to Facebook and Twitter and emails. Lisa sent me a review copy of her novel Prince Rupert’s Teardrop (thank God I loved it). I’ve met the lovely Kirsty IRL (as the cool kids say) and I’m looking forward to meeting Hilary very soon. Of course, it always helps you warm to a blog when you like the people writing it, but I can genuinely say that while I now regularly read many fewer blogs that I used to, VL has stayed a firm favourite for one very simple reason: I think it’s really good.
There are several standout posts for me. The first one that I found myself going back to re-read several times (a rarity in blogs in my experience) was an article by Lisa about what kind of blog VL was becoming. In particular I was interested in the section on book blogs versus “proper reviews”. At the time it was an argument popping up all over the place. I even ended up writing an article about it for The Reader magazine, and I quoted that very VL post in the process. It was very definitely at this point that VL took a step above many of the other blogs I followed. It wasn’t “just” book reviews; it was also writing about books and the book world, and really interesting writing at that.
At the other end of the literary spectrum, my other favourite post is the perhaps now infamous Why I Hate Twilight. Because I hate Twilight too, and Eve articulated it much better than I could. Now I just send people the link. Much easier. Also, the comments are hilarious. I’m also a huge fan of Good Kirsty/Bad Kirsty. I know nothing about Trotsky, or indeed anything much about Russian history in general, yet I loved their conversation about Geoffrey Swain’s book.
Does VL have an identity? Yes, or rather, it has many. How many other blogs can say that? It’s all of the above, plus Ticky Dogge-Hare, theme weeks, and an interview with one of The Archers. It’s a cliché but surely true: there is something for everyone here. Except Twilight fans. There isn’t so much for them.